The Universal Notebook: Perplexed by Poliquin

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Although I do not live in the 2nd Congressional District and cannot vote in the race between Democrat Emily Cain and Republican Bruce Poliquin, I recently made a small contribution to Cain’s campaign.

Why? Because the last thing the good people of Maine need is to add to the ranks of rabid Republican obstructionists who have rendered the U.S. House of Representatives a completely useless, dysfunctional and gridlocked body.

A Republican poll in August had former state Treasurer Poliquin, who has previously failed in attempts to win election as governor and U.S. senator, in a statistical dead heat with former House Minority Leader Cain, the slight 37-33 Cain advantage being within the poll’s 4.9 percent statistical margin of error. (Of course, Poliquin also has an Eliot Cutler problem in Blaine Richardson, a conservative independent who was siphoning off 6 percent of the votes, most of which would probably otherwise go to Poliquin.)

Personally, I wouldn’t have thought voters in the 2nd District would much cotton to Poliquin, a preppy millionaire who pulled a Scott Brown carpetbagger move and moved to the district from his seaside estate in the 1st District when Mike Michaud’s seat in Congress came up for grabs.

But Poliquin defeated former Maine senate President Kevin Raye of Perry in the Republican primary by painting Raye as a career politician with a record of bipartisan compromise. Apparently, conservatives aren’t fussy about who represents them, as long as they are ideologically pure and uncompromising.

Poliquin, one of Gov. Paul LePage’s chief water carriers, served as state treasurer for a couple of years until LePage’s words and deeds cost Republicans control of the Legislature. Poliquin made news in office primarily for self-dealing, illegally doing business while in office, and taking questionable advantage of tree growth tax laws to reduce taxes on his Georgetown property. But conservatives love anyone who manages to avoid paying taxes.

What I find most perplexing about Poliquin, however, is the way he uses personal tragedy in his political narrative. His family life might be off limits in a political discussion, were not for the fact that he makes political hay with it.

In 1992, his wife and father-in-law drowned while the family was on vacation in Puerto Rico. I would have thought such a devastating loss might make a man more compassionate and less concerned about the bottom line, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Poliquin.

Then, in 2006, his brother died at the age of 54 after having suffered many years with drug and alcohol addiction. Poliquin says it was his brother’s death that really shaped his conservative views. Incredibly, he blames the government for allowing his brother to become an addict. If it hadn’t been for welfare, Poliquin reasons, his brother would have had to work for a living and wouldn’t have lost control of his life.

“Eventually, he found a way not to work and take advantage of welfare programs,” Poliquin told a reporter in 2012, while explaining his conservatism.

There are lots of reasons to hope Poliquin does not win the 2nd District race. His prep school views on education threaten public education. His conservative fiscal views favor the wealthy. And he would be just another Boehner-boy Obama-blocker in a Republican-controlled House.

But it is his twisted view of America’s social safety net that is most disturbing. I wouldn’t think folks in the 2nd District would want a congressman who blames disability programs for his brother’s addiction anywhere near Medicare and Social Security.

Back in 2009, when Poliquin entered the Republican gubernatorial primary and ended up coming in sixth out of seven, a supporter at North Yarmouth Academy, where Poliquin was on the board and coached baseball, got hold of the NYA alumni email list and spammed the grads. At the time, I asked a mutual acquaintance what he thought of Poliquin.

“He was a good baseball coach,” I was told. “I wish he’d stuck to baseball.”

Me, too. I just don’t get Bruce Poliquin and, despite his financial success, I don’t think he gets it, either.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.